Equine ulcers are often lumped together, however both gastric & hindgut ulcers require different treatment. Understanding the different horse ulcer symptoms will help identify the correct course of action.
Equine gastric ulcers present in the horse stomach, while hindgut ulcers present in the hindgut (specifically the colon). While many symptoms are similar – there are a few key differences to keep an eye out for
In addition, a basic understanding of equine anatomy is enormously beneficial in understanding the symptoms, causes and treatment for equine ulcers.
Horse ulcer symptoms:
Horse ulcer symptoms are often the same, whether it’s gastric or hindgut. Here are the general signs of an ulcery horse:
- weight loss and low body condition
- irritability and ‘nappiness’ while being ridden
- a cranky attitude
- behavior indicating discomfort, such as pawing or laying down
- loss of appetite
Hindgut specific horse ulcer symptoms
The location and size of the horse’s hindgut means that the below symptoms are indicitative of potential hindgut ulcers
- sensitivity in the flank area
- difficulty bending, collecting, and extending
- soft or loose droppings
- repetitive behaviours like weaving or cribbing
- sudden dislike of grooming & rugging
For a proper diagnosis a gastroscope can identify gastric ulcers in horses. However, gastroscopes are not effective at diagnosing hindgut ulcers. For a non invasive method of checking for ulcer symptoms at home, follow this tutorial.
Gastric Ulcer Symptoms
There are two main symptoms which are indicative of gastric ulcers in horses (when combined with the other symptoms outlined above).
- Chewing, cribbing (or crib biting).
- Altered food behaviour.
Read this article for a complete rundown on Gastric Ulcer Symptoms.
Anatomy of the digestive system
To greater understand the causes, symptoms and treatment of equine ulcers, understanding the digestive anatomy is paramount.
In basic terms, the front part of the digestive system or the ‘foregut’ consists of the mouth, esophagus, stomach and small intestine. The back part of the digestive system is called the ‘hindgut’ and consists of the caecum, large colon, small colon, rectum and anus.
Both the stomach and the colon are susceptible to ulcers.
The stomach has 10% of the capacity of the small intestine. This means that horses cannot handle large portions of feed at once. They are much better suited to small amounts fed consumed regularly.
Furthermore, the stomach is divided into an upper and lower section. These sections have different types of stomach lining.
- The upper section is known as the squamous mucosa. This has a thinner stomach lining and no glands.
- The lower section is called the glandular mucosa. This section has much more robust lining and contains glands that produce stomach acid.
Most ulcers form in the upper section of the horse’s stomach (the sqamous) as it has poor protection against stomach acid. Ulcers are less common in the glandular mucosa as it has better defences for acid protection.
The hindgut is about 7 metres (23 feet) in length with a volume of 140-150 litres (37- 40 gallons) .
Horses are known as ‘hindgut fermenters’ as they utilise good bacteria to ferment forage in their colon, creating volatile fatty acids which produce most of the body’s energy.
Ulcers occur in the hindgut as the result of erosion to the mucosa in the caecum and/or colon.
Treatment and prevention
Omeprazole is the go-to medication for equine squamous gastric ulceration syndrome. It controls gastric acid production which prevents ulcers from forming. In addition, Omeprazole will alleviate pain. Generally speaking, omeprazole will heal ulcers within 28 days.
Treating EGGUS with omeprazole alone is much less effective.
Instead it is recommended that you treat with both omeprazole and a mucosal protectant like sucralfate. Sucralfate forms a gel when reacting with stomach acid and this forms a protective film over ulcerated or inflamed areas. This allows the existing ulcers to heal, while the omeprazole stops new ulcers from forming.
Hindgut Ulcer Treatment:
A key place to start treatment is by discontinuing or reducing the use of NSAIDs.
Sucralfate is recommended to bind to and protect ulcers from further acid exposure. It is also suspected that once sucralfate binds to an ulcer it may stimulate further protective chemical production in the area.